Boise Debates Geographic Diversity in Drawing Districts for Municipal Elections |
Boise, Meridian and Nampa are preparing to create commissions that will draw geographic districts for upcoming city council elections.
However, cities take different approaches, and in Boise, the council has been back and forth on whether to require geographic diversity for commission members. The council originally decided to require it on April 12, but on April 19 they changed the order.
In 2020, the legislature passed HB 413, which required cities with populations over 100,000 to elect council members by geographic district. A follow-up bill next year that would have allowed cities to wait until 2023 stalled in the Legislative Assembly.
However, Boise was the only city to hold district elections last year. Meridian and Nampa had unofficial counts above 100,000 until the release of census data that officially put them above the 100,000 threshold.
However, there have been recent discussions in the respective communities about the creation of district commissions and who will draw the district lines.
“The more I think about it, the more I feel like a person’s ability to help our city by drawing fair constituency lines, which evenly distributes votes between precincts for voters, really doesn’t depend on where she lives,” Boise said. Councilman Patrick Bagant said at the April 19 meeting.
Other city council members expressed similar views. For example, City Council President Elaine Clegg said a mayor could choose five people who are very similar but live in different areas.
“I’m the only council member who doesn’t live inside the North End,” said council member Luci Willits, the only one to vote against. Willits is also the only Republican on the city council. “This law was born out of the fear that people would not be represented.”
Many council members come from the same pair of wards. But district elections in Boise have created opportunities for the Republican Party that haven’t existed before in citywide races, Idaho GOP Chairman Tom Luna previously told the AFP. Idaho Press.
Lisa Sanchez said the byelections are a huge cultural shift.
“It’s something that was forced on us,” she says. “Any opportunity we have to slow this process down and make it a little more of what we’d like it to be…I think we should.”
Members of the Boise City Council voted five to one to change the ordinance, removing the requirement for geographic diversity on the commission. The new ordinance stipulates that the commissioners must be diverse and represent all Boiséens, including geographically.
The City of Boise is now seeking comments on the ordinance, expected by noon May 2.
On May 3, the council is expected to discuss and proceed to its final vote on the ordinance.
Structure and execution
At the April 12 council meeting in Boise, council members heard from the public about the proposed ordinance.
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said the council wanted to do this process before the first district elections, but the legislation came too late.
“This, tonight, provides the opportunity to have a commission that will then hear from the public and work on developing maps,” McLean said.
Director of Strategic Initiatives Hannah Brass Greer said the ordinance will establish the City of Boise Districting Commission. The commission will allocate city council seats one through six to districts. Every 10 years, the commission should be appointed to draw up a new plan with census data.
Brass Greer said April 12 that the plan was to have five commissioners, to avoid a tie.
In the coming weeks, Brass Greer said, the city will develop the commission’s policy. The commission would aim to finalize and adopt the map in October or November and the council would approve the map before the end of the year.
Brass Greer said Boise is working with the cities of Meridian and Nampa.
Council members and townspeople have raised questions about geographic diversity, but also the requirement that council candidates from the past five years cannot serve on the commission.
Commission members would also not be allowed to run for council for five years after serving.
The commissioners would be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.
Woodings said she wants a geographically diverse commission that “represents our entire city.”
However, the neighboring towns of Nampa and Meridian do things a little differently.
The Nampa committee will consist of nine Nampa residents, six of whom must live in specific geographical areas. Three can live anywhere within the city limits, according to a press release.
Anyone who sits on the committee will not be eligible to run for city council in the next five years.
“The committee’s work is expected to be completed by the end of the year,” a press release said.
Meridian’s resolution says the commission has until the end of June to send the Meridian District Plan to the city clerk.
That commission has six members, all of whom currently sit on a municipal commission, Meridian Mayor Robert Simison said during an April 5 business session.
One is a former member of the city council and the other is a current elected official, he added. All have pledged not to run for office for the next five years, he said.
Two reside south of Interstate 84 and four reside north of the freeway, Simison said. Members are split evenly, with three living east and three living west of Meridian Road.
“I know they’re ready to get down to business,” Simison said.